Drawing an end to the long-drawn speculations over Suvendu Adhikari’s imminent resignation from the Trinamool Congress (TMC), Adhikari finally became one of the many estranged TMC veterans to have joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the 2021 Assembly polls in West Bengal. While it may not be presumptuous to assume the weakening of the TMC strongholds in several districts of Bengal, Didi took no time reclaim Adhikari’s constituency of
Nandigram. Nandigram, though, is known to be a grip of the Adhikari family, but remains symbolically significant in Mamata Banerjee’s political career for virtually being the last nail on the coffin for the Left parties prior to the 2011 Assembly Elections.
Couples with this, the sporadic incidences of virulent political clashes between the incumbent TMC and aspirant BJP. It is no secret that West Bengal is what BJP is eyeing next to extend its federal headlock. And Home Minister Amit Shah’s recent trip to Bengal is an extension of the same spirit propagated by the BJP.
The Political Culture of Violence
While the apparent bhadrolok Bengali imageries pave the way for the illusion of an overall ‘progressiveness’, the contemporary party-history of Bengal’s bloody political culture dates long-back. Numerically speaking, the state beheld at least 365 politically driven murders between 1999 and 2006. Needless to say, its genesis lies in the atrocities perpetrated by former Chief Minister Siddharta Shankar Ray in the early 1970s. Consequently, the latter half of the 34-years of Left rule in Bengal witnessed the malevolent carnages in Keshpur (2000, West Midnapore), Nanoor (2000, Birbhum), Chhota Angaria (2001, West Midnapore) to name a few. In fact, it is Mamata Banerjee’s stern resoluteness in the face of the brazen flexing of power by the-then ruling dispensation (led by Jyoti Basu) that was to determine Bengal’s political destiny.
The regime-change in 2011 with the TMC government coming to power seemed more makeshift than ever with many wafted grassroots cadres of the Left, especially CPIM (Communist Party of India Marxist) forming the grassroots of Trinamool in the face of the ‘change’. No matter how ironical it may sound both literally and metaphorically (Trinamool literally translates as grassroots), being true to the vicious repetition of history, the same grassroots party workers are now tilting towards the BJP (partially for opportunism and partially for their political fulfillment). Thus, it is of no surprise if the fundamentals of this political culture remain untouched through the courses of power-shifts even in future. Perhaps, the Bengalis may need to buckle up as the bystanders of more such violent occurrences in the days to come ahead of the polls.
Enough for a Change!
When the TMC government came to power in 2011, it made promises of ‘change’ instead of ‘revenge’. Quickly enough, these lofty promises fell short due to the internal confusion that the party was about to face. While factors like Banerjee’s unpredictable temper, TMC’s internal party fall outs, the alleged involvement of the TMC leaders in scams gained prominence in no time after the regime-change, the TMC ruthlessly unleashed its inherited political culture of violence in almost eliminating the traces of political opposition during the Panchayat elections of 2018. While the TMC party supporters allege the numbers of political casualties to have been higher when the Left Front was in power, there could not have been any denial of these occurrences of violence under TMC’s reign as well. Adding to the miseries of the opposition (primarily, CPIM and Congress) in West Bengal, the liberals of the country drowned in their quest against the Centre’s Hindutva politics and turned almost deaf to the plights of Bengal’s political opposition.
Eventually, on Bengal fell an astounding silence over these causalities and cast on its future the imminence of BJP’s rise. The near eradication of the Left and Congress from the map of Bengal’s political face not only rendered these parties immobilized but also created an oppositional vacuum, that was only to be filled by the BJP. While TMC, Left, and the Congress were busy fighting each other, BJP organized itself elementarily to capture the political void and sheltered many TMC, Left, and Congress dissenters within its fold. The untimely silence against the injustices perpetrated by TMC translated into dissenters’ unquenching thirst for vengeance.
TMC’s Ideological Absenteeism
A chunk of these political confusions is caused by TMC’s lack of ideological consistency. Hence, it is difficult to gauge the fickleness of its positioning. One the one hand it speaks of authoritarian tendencies when the party-chief Mamata Banerjee lashes out at a student during a live TV programme or even when Professor Ambikesh Mahapatra is jailed for sharing a cartoon on Banerjee. On the other, the party stands for humanitarianism during the Rohingya refugee crisis, questions the legality of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), demands release of the Kashmiri political detainees. As the contradiction remains inconclusive for the party, it is safe to say that the party relies heavily on opposing the BJP-led central government as much as using heavy-handedness in dealing with the matters pertaining to the state. In an Althusserian universe, the lack of ideological interpellations among the individual voters may have hindered their identities as political subjects.
BJP’s propaganda machinery took no time to steer the wheels of communalisation by squarely blaming Banerjee for favouring the Muslims, aka minority appeasement. There is no revelation in stating that the Muslims constituting 27% of the state’s population (as per 2011 Census), have been a significant factor of the state’s electoral politics for long. TMC added nothing extra to the equation other than maneuvering the ways of its political predecessors. But eventually, the party gave in to the BJP propaganda by resorting to Hindu symbolism as a retort. Even the TMC government’s recently published reports on achievements astonishingly misses out on the statistics of minority development which indeed has been one of the party’s appreciable accomplishments.
Instead of drifting away from the politics of religious symbolism, TMC entrapped itself manifold despite claiming to be one of the upholders of secular politics. The BJP succinctly and successfully played with the communal insecurities among the chunk of middle-class Bengali Hindus owing to their memories of atrocities in the hands of the Muslims in East Pakistan. Currently, with the addition of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) in the state’s political dynamism when the Muslims of the state may actually try to look for a political alternative based on identity, the incumbent TMC finds itself in an awkward fray.
The Left Residue
While the Left’s win in the local body elections in Kerala is being celebrated among its supporters as an essential barometer ahead of Kerala’s 2021 Assembly Elections, in the context of its Bengal party members, it translates into an elusive triumph. The food for thought remains: what may have worked for Kerala’s Left in turning its voters into political subjects as opposed to the Left Front in Bengal?
Locally speaking, ardent supporters of CPIM for generations are now not only distributing BJP’s pamphlets but are also actively seeking a ‘change’ in the existing TMC dominated discourse. While for some it is a silent withdrawal of the Left from fighting BJP, some others are hopeful of a direct confrontation against the Left’s ideological enemy if the BJP comes to power in 2021. Perhaps, the expectations are squarely to become an opposition to BJP both at the centre as well as the state. The end goal for the Left Front in Bengal is to do away with TMC at any cost. While this may seem like an immediate respite for the Left, BJP’s undaunted attempts at erasing the spaces of deliberations, institutionally and otherwise, in the larger democratic discourse of the country should raise significant red-flags.
Instead of being prophetic about which of the two parties may be emerging victorious in 2021, it is imperative to deal with the issues in hand constructively and self-reflectively. In order to prevent West Bengal from going to the clutches of BJP, more calculative and consorted efforts may be expected from across the political spectrum.
Debangana Chatterjee is a PhD Candidate (Centre for International Politics Organisation and Disarmament) at the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi